Hanford

Anonymous letter to Energy Northwest questions investigation findings

Equipment at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland undergoes a routine check.
Equipment at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland undergoes a routine check. Tri-City Herald file

Another anonymous letter sent to Energy Northwest board members is criticizing the preliminary results of an investigation of allegations made in previous letters.

Letters were sent to some board members early in the year saying the unnamed workers who wrote it believed information about sub-par performance of the nuclear power plant near Richland was being hidden from Energy Northwest governing boards, employees and the public.

The Energy Northwest executive board hired the Pillsbury law firm of Washington, D.C., to investigate allegations.

Issues appeared to be mainly with communication, Pillsbury officials told the executive board about a month ago in a preliminary report on the first phase of the investigation. Data should be aligned to make it less confusing when it is communicated, investigators said.

But the latest letter alleges that Energy Northwest executives were releasing information that was not just confusing, but that they knew was wrong.

When the (plant) index was climbing and at its peak the index was discussed publicly and frequently.

Anonymous letter

They included an email sent Aug. 18 to a top executive of Energy Northwest’s nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station, that said the plant had fallen into the worst performing 25 percent of plants nationwide. The ranking was prepared by the nonprofit industry group, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, or INPO.

But the executive board was told in September that the Columbia Generating Station was in the third quartile ranking rather than the fourth quartile, the newest letter said. Typed information for a report to the executive board in October continued to state that the plant was in the third quartile, the letter said.

It was not until December that information was provided to the executive board that the nuclear power plant near Richland had fallen into the fourth quartile, the letter said. It based its information on a search of Energy Northwest document and data systems.

The letter said that as of December, the plant ranked 88 out of 99 plants. Radiation exposure was the third worst among boiling water reactors and equipment reliability put it at 97 out of 99 plants.

“When the (plant) index was climbing and at its peak the index was discussed publicly and frequently,” the letter said. “As performance declined the index discussion with member utilities disappeared yet the message was still universally positive with a focus on other topics.”

Pillsbury selected who they would interview and did not provide a way for us to approach them and provide our concerns in a confidential and safe way.

Anonymous letter

The letter also questioned why “executive compensation has skyrocketed while performance has plummeted,” using the chief nuclear officer’s pay as an example.

Energy Northwest said the pay, which is based in part on aggressive performance goals, declined from fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2015, when the officer earned $916,000 including base pay and short and long term incentives. That was below the 50th percentile for chief nuclear officers nationwide of about $1.4 million, which is close to what the officer is eligible to earn in fiscal 2016 by meeting all goals.

There has been a decline in performance at the Columbia Generating Station, but issues are being addressed, said attorney Daryl Shapiro, of the Pillsbury law firm, last month.

Some issues were influenced by the plant’s last refueling outage, which was longer than expected, reducing production and exposing workers to more radiation than had been anticipated for the shorter schedule. The plant also operated at reduced power for several weeks after the outage as a stuck valve was repaired.

The authors of the letter said that Pillsbury selected who they would interview did not provide a way for them to provide concerns in a confidential and safe way.

Physicians for Social Responsibility of Oregon and Washington received a copy of the letter and provided it to the Herald.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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